DENVER — Embattled Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett surrendered playcalling duties for Sunday’s 22-16 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders in Empower Field at Mile High, and while the move, and quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Klint Kubiak’s performance in the role, earned good reviews, Denver still scored just 16 points, lost its sixth one-score game of the season and suffered its third overtime loss.
The Broncos came into the game with the lowest-scoring offense in the league at 14.6 points per game (now 14.7 points per game), and Hackett had promised to “evaluate everything” and “look at everything.”
To that end, he had Kubiak (son of Gary Kubiak, the former Broncos head coach, longtime assistant coach and backup quarterback to John Elway) call plays during last week’s practices as well as in Sunday’s game. Klint Kubiak is in his second stint as a Broncos assistant, having worked on his father’s and Vance Joseph’s staffs as well.
“For me, I’m going to do whatever I can to help this team,” Hackett said. “We’re so close, we continually talk about it over and over again. … Wanted to see if there was something I could do, give some kind of spark to the offense, and I kind of stepped away from that, let Klint get upstairs … see if that would help us.”
Kubiak moved upstairs to the coaches’ booth Sunday, and offensive coordinator Justin Outten moved down to the bench area to work with quarterback Russell Wilson on the sideline.
Outten is also heavily involved in the planning of the team’s run game during the week.
“Thought coach Kubiak called a great game,” Wilson said. “Thought he was really sharp and communicated well, thought [Outten] was great on the sideline, too. It was smooth in that sense. … Thought this week coach Kubiak did a great job of it in practice, communicating what we wanted to do.”
Early on, the Broncos appeared to reap some benefits. Wilson made a concerted effort to get the ball out quickly in the passing game, and the Broncos had Wilson under center more often and used some bigger personnel groupings, like two and three tight ends. They built a 10-0 lead with 9 minutes, 19 seconds left in the first half.
Then familiar problems arrived. An ill-timed mistake crushed momentum just before halftime as running back Melvin Gordon III fumbled on the Raiders’ 1-yard line. On the next play, Brandon McManus had a 25-yard field goal attempt blocked.
The Broncos also did not score in the third quarter for the seventh time this season.
In the end, the Broncos added their eighth game of the season with 19 or fewer points and could not get a first down in the final minutes of regulation to hold on to a 16-13 lead. And on third-and-10 from the Broncos’ 34-yard line just after the two-minute warning, Wilson threw an incompletion instead of keeping the clock moving when the Raiders had no timeouts remaining.
The Raiders drove to the Broncos’ 7-yard line, and Daniel Carlson kicked a 25-yard field goal with 19 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 16-16. The Raiders scored on the opening possession of overtime for the win.
“We called a pass — you got to keep the clock running,” Hackett said of the third-down play. “One way or the other … you just want to be sure the clock is running … but if something happened in the pocket, that’s one of those situations where you can take a sack or you can just run the ball. Obviously we want the clock running in that situation.”
“We called a pass play … we called a pass play to kind end the game right there,” Wilson said. “We get a first down, and the game’s over; they kind of covered it up pretty well.”
Wilson said he was trying to get the ball to rookie wide receiver Jalen Virgil, but “the ball just kind of went away from me.”
Of the miscue just before halftime, Hackett said: “We need to be sure we’re moving the chains, finishing drives. We had a chance there at the end of the first half and we came away with nothing. That’s unacceptable; we need to at least kick a field goal.”
Hackett would not commit to the change in playcalling duties moving forward, saying the coaching staff would review how it all worked during the game and make a decision.
The Broncos still have just one player — wide receiver Jerry Jeudy — with more than one touchdown catch, and Jeudy, who did not play Sunday because of an ankle injury, has just three.